Cat Spay/Neuter: What to Expect and Why It's Important

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up close on the face of a neutered tabby cat

Spaying or neutering your cat is one of the greatest gifts you can provide your pet and your family. These routine medical procedures not only help reduce the number of homeless pets, but they also can prevent medical and behavioral problems from developing — allowing your cat to lead a longer, healthier, and happier life. 

Here's what you can expect when you spay or neuter a cat.

What happens during spay/neuter surgery?

Spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testicles. While both operations are conducted routinely with few complications, only licensed veterinarians are allowed to perform them.

Prior to surgery, your veterinarian might carry out a complete physical examination of your cat and draw a blood sample for analysis. To minimize pain and discomfort, both spaying and neutering are conducted while your cat is under general anesthesia.

Following surgery, your veterinarian will instruct you on how to care for your cat during recovery. Most cats are back to normal within a few days. The surgery site usually heals within two weeks, and any skin stitches are removed at a follow-up appointment with your vet.

Why should I spay or neuter my cat?

Spaying or neutering your cat, as well as community cats (i.e., free-roaming cats who live outdoors), prevents unwanted births, which helps reduce overpopulation in animal shelters.

Another benefit is that spaying or neutering reduces or eliminates sexual behaviors in cats that people generally consider a nuisance. In most male cats — regardless of their age when neutered — neutering reduces roaming, urine spraying, and fights with neighborhood cats. And the plaintive howling of female cats in heat is eliminated when they're spayed. Generally, cats who are sexually intact are at greater risk of being relinquished to a shelter. In addition, the chance of developing reproductive organ and mammary cancer is lessened or eliminated through spaying or neutering cats.

Will my cat’s personality change after being spayed or neutered?

Other than reducing sexual behaviors, spaying or neutering your cat is unlikely to change the cat's basic personality, though male cats might become more docile following neutering. Cats’ playfulness and general levels of activity, excitement, and vocalization do not typically change following spay/neuter surgery.

Will my cat gain weight after being fixed?

Both neutered males and spayed females have a tendency to gain weight due to a decrease in roaming and other sexual behavior. However, weight gain can be prevented through proper dietary management and exercise. Physically, male cats neutered prior to puberty do not develop the large head and thick skin of intact males.

When should a cat be spayed or neutered?

Healthy cats as young as 8 weeks old can be spayed or neutered safely. Studies have shown that cats altered at less than 6 months old do not have an increased risk of physical or behavioral problems, as compared to those who undergo surgery later. So early-age spaying and neutering might prevent problem behaviors before they occur. 

But if it hasn’t already been done, spaying or neutering should be considered for any pet with a behavior problem, regardless of age. For certain behaviors, surgery might reduce or eliminate the problem, even in older cats. Consult with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for further information.